OLYMPIA — Washington Democratic state lawmakers are again considering legislation to exempt the birth dates of public employees from the state’s transparency laws.
The latest attempt comes after the state Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling last fall declared that public-employee birth dates are disclosable records.
Advocates of government transparency considered the ruling a win, including news organizations, which use dates of birth in their reporting to confirm the identities of people.
But public-employee unions, who donate big dollars to Washington Democrats, are arguing that the transparency law puts their workers at risk of identity theft and harassment.
And several unions have been frustrated with a conservative group using public-records requests to get employees’ personal information to contact the workers and tell they don’t have to pay union dues.
On Tuesday, lawmakers discussed House Bill 1888. Sponsored by Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, it would shield employee birth dates and also payroll deduction of those employees’ dependents.
Several members of news organizations testified against the proposal, saying it would harm the ability to report stories.
The editors noted that birth dates of public employees have been used by The Seattle Times to ensure accurate identification in reporting on stories. These were among the examples cited:
- That at least 98 school employees fired or reprimanded for sexual misconduct but continued to teach or coach.
- Former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray had been investigated in Oregon for allegations he sexually abused a foster child.
- A prison medical director with the state Department of Corrections was fired after the deaths of inmates who received inadequate medical care.
Hudgins said he wants to find a way with his legislation to make sure news organizations can still report on such stories, while making sure public employees aren’t harmed.
Kati Thompson, a worker at the state Employee Security Department, said lawmakers need to pass the bill so workers won’t get harassed like she has been.
“And people who have been victims of domestic violence or other violent crimes, who have testified against their rapists at trial and happen to work for the state now, we don’t have any way to track all those people and keep their data safe,” Thompson said.